Ten Things Every Small Winery Must Know
There are treats to be had by working in the wine industry and I'm not talking the food and wine that does indeed flow so copiously. Rather, I'm talking about the opportunities I'm fortunate enough to have to share ideas with colleagues and learn from the best.
I had such an opportunity last week when I spent time in Seattle at TASTE Washington. I was invited to sit on a couple seminar panels at the annual celebration of Washington wines. The first seminar was entitled "Marketing wine in 2010 and Beyond". I had the pleasure of addressing numerous members of the Washington wine industry on this question along with colleagues Paul Mabray of Vintank and Liem Le of Nielsen.
My 20 minute talk boiled down to this:
THE TEN THINGS EVERY SMALL WINERY MUST KNOW TO MARKET IN TODAY'S WINE MARKETING UNIVERSE.
The premise was: While wholesalers and distributors once occupied the center of the wine marketing universe for years, today the consumer occupies that position and any small winery that does not base their marketing efforts on that fact will find themselves running uphill.
This premise is unassailable I believe. But that's not important. What's important are the 10 Things every small winery must know and do to succeed. Here is an abbreviated and distilled presentation of what I told those Washington wine industry professionals I had the pleasure of addressing and speaking with:
1. Know Thy Self
Be able to succinctly communicate your brands value proposition. Be able to explain to individuals and small groups what makes your winery and product line up distinct and unique from the other 6000 wineries in the U.S. This distinction will form the foundation of all your marketing and branding efforts.
2. Listen To The Conversation
The single biggest change in the wine marketing world over the past 20 years is that today consumers are talking about wine—publicly. If you listen to all the various conversations happening in various places on the web, you will learn how consumers drink wine, where they drink wine, when they drink wine, what they want from wines, why they pay what they pay for wines, and everything else in between. By listening closely and daily to these conversations you have an advantage that marketers did not have 20 years ago: regular and intimate access to what you customers want. They'll tell you have to reach them. Listen!!
3. Talk To Your Customers
Because good marketing is largely meeting the expectations of your customers, you need to talk to them simply because they expect to talk to you. The technology exists for consumers to address the principles of any winery directly—and they will. Talk back to them on Twitter, on Facebook, on Blogs, in emails. If you do this regularly and honestly, you will be rewarded with sales.
4. Build Your Mailing List
The mailing list is the single most important tool a small and medium sized winery can possess. When it is carefully built and developed into a customer database that can be sliced and diced and segmented in any and all ways, you'll have the tool that will create the foundation for success. So build it any way you can, keep it clean and use it to carefully address your customers.
5. If You Don't Have A Tasting Room, Get One
Not only is it the location where you'll sell wine at the greatest margins, it is the place you'll create evangelists for your wines that will talk them up in your absence. It's where you'll build your wine club. It's where you'll build your mailing list. It's where you'll learn the most about how your customers react to you products and brand message. If you don't have one either build one or join a co-op.
6. Hire A Great Director of Customer Relations
Not a VP of Marketing. Not a Director of Sales. Not a Director of Hospitality. The Director of Customer Relations will be your most important hire after Winemaker. This is the person who understands and embraces your brand message. They know where the conversations are happening. They know how to converse and listen. They know how to use Twitter. They know how to build a following on Social Networks. They know how to build, maintain and mine a customer data base. They know the birthday of the daughter of your best Chardonnay customer. They know the importance of sending a bottle of wine or an email to your best Syrah customer to congratulate them on getting new job. A great Director of Customer Relations will make or break your brand.
7. Use the Media To Your Advantage
Customers, accounts and wholesalers all still want a third party endorsement for the wine choices they make and the wine media is still the endorser of choice. Sending samples to the media to obtain reviews that endorse your wines and that can be used in communications with customers is the safest way to give your customers what they need. In addition, reach out to the media simply to know them. Read them, comment on their work, start a conversation with them, know them. By doing this, you become a resource for them. You become part of their line of sight. You build the foundation for future coverage.
8. Self Distribute
Few wineries will be able to sell all their inventory direct to consumers. They need to reach out to restaurants and retailers. The technology, services and logistics exist today to self distribute in a number of states. I suggest self distribution over distributor sales because it gives you more control, but also because the skill and talent needed to do a good job of self distribution are the same as those needed to sell well direct to the consumer: the ability and willingness to create one on one and intimate relationships with others. You'll need to be on the road or hire a road warrior. But, again, the software, the services, the communication technology and the logistics exist to facilitate a robust and successful self distribution network.
9. Support Liberalization Of The Three Tier System
The three tier system was developed before there was a consumer centric wine industry and before there were 6,000 domestic wineries. At its strictest, where direct to consumer sales and self distribution is prohibited, the three tier system hinders the success of small wineries. By supporting organizations and efforts that liberalize the three tier system you support your success. Supporting liberalization of the three tier system you support your own brand's profitability and long term success.
10. Make Demands of Your Wholesaler
Many small wineries will contract with wholesalers in their home state and other states. The biggest mistake wineries make when working with wholesalers is selling them a pallet or half pallet or quarter pallet of wine to them hoping the wholesaler sells the wine. If you really want them to sell your wine after they buy it, you'll need to demand they do so by staying in touch with them regularly. Demand they use the sales materials they get form you. Demand they deliver regular depletion reports. Demand they take time to work with you wine yo are in the market. Demand you have the opportunity to communicate with sales people. If you don't do these things, the likelihood is that your wines will languish in their warehouses as they focus on larger brands.